2011 Indians Outlook: Starting Rotation

The 2011 Cleveland Indians kick off the season in 10 days.  With that in mind, it’s time to take a look at the different aspects of the team in order to determine if this is going to be a memorable season or a very long and forgettable one.  To start things off I’m going to examine the projected starting rotation and options available for the Indians heading into the season.  After all, success on the field begins and ends with pitching.  Score all the runs you want, but if you can’t keep the opposition from putting up crooked numbers you won’t win many games.

So how exactly do the Indians fare when it comes to starting pitching in 2011?

The Ace of the staff is Fausto Carmona.  In all honesty, his ascension to the top of the Indians starting rotation probably has less to do with his performance on the mound over the past few seasons and more to do with not having any better options.  Back in 2007 this seemed like the inevitable destination for Carmona.  He went 19-8 as the #2 man behind C.C. Sabathia and helped lead the Indians to within 1 win of reaching the World Series.  Carmona was phenomenal that season.  Unfortunately, the success would not continue the way everyone had hoped.  Over the next two years Carmona amassed a record of 13-19 and even dealt with a demotion not just to the minors, but back to the Arizona training complex to get his head back on straight.

2010 was a solid year for Carmona.  He made the all-star team as the Tribe’s lone representative and despite a record of 13-14 pitched more like the ’07 version of Carmona (the sub .500 record was due in part to the fact that at times the Indians could have been no hit by a tee ball team.  They were that bad for long stretches of last season).  If Carmona can build on last years success, there is no reason to believe he can’t crack the 15 win mark and be the stopper in the rotation.  If the Indians have any success in 2011 it’ll be thanks to Carmona pitching like an ace.

Justin Masterson will slide into the second spot in the rotation.  There are a lot of questions surrounding Masterson, the most important of which is whether or not Masterson can finally have a successful year as a full-time starter.  Earlier in career with Boston he was used primarily out of the bull pen as a set up man thanks to the log jam in their rotation and had a great deal of success.  The Indians acquired him hoping to transition him back into a starter.  So far it hasn’t gone well.  In 2010, his first full season in Cleveland and first as a regular starter, Masterson had a record of 6-13 and at times looked eratic and lost on the mound.  His earned run average was damn near 5.

Odds are this is Masterson’s last chance to prove he can get it done as a starter.  If not he may find himself facing a permanent demotion back to the bull pen.  The only issue with that is whether or not his failures as a starter, and possibly his mismanagement by the Indians, have ruined him beyond repair.  A demotion to the bull pen wouldn’t be the end of the world.  As I said, when he was in Boston Masterson was a lights out relief pitcher helping set up Jonathan Papelbon.  If he can’t find his form then things become bleak.  He was the centerpiece in the trade of Victor Martinez and failing to get anything out of him would be a failure of monumental proportions.  Martinez was one of the most popular Indians ever.  It won’t sit well if it turns out we traded him away for nothing.

After Masterson things start to get interesting.  There is no sure-fire solution to who will fill the next three spots in the rotation.  The Indians do have options, however.  They have their choice of Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlim, Mitch Talbot, and Jeanmar Gomez.  The one thing all four appear to have in common is youth and inexperience.

Talbot pitched great for stretches last year in his first full season in the bigs, but a shaky spring has raised questions as to whether or not his limited success was simply fools gold.  He doesn’t have the most overwhelming arsenal of pitches, but he located the baseball well and got outs.  That’s more than you can say about a lot of other Indians pitchers, i.e. David Huff.  Barring a complete melt down the remainder of the spring I thinks it’s safe to assume Talbot will have a spot in the rotation.

Carlos Carrasco also appears to be slated for the starting rotation in 2011.  Manny Acta said as much when he was on the Really Big Show prior to Spring Training.  I completely support the decision.  Carrasco has talent and top of the rotation stuff.  It’s whether or not he can put it all together to become a pitcher.  For the Indians sake I hope he does, otherwise their may be a mutiny amongst the fans.  Much like Masterson, Carrasco was the centerpiece in the trade of Cliff Lee to the Phillies way back when.  At the time he was rated as the top prospect in the Phillies organization and the 41st prospect in all of baseball.  It’s time to put up or shut up.  He needs to have a solid season and keep every Indian fan from jumping off of the I-480 bridge.  I wish I had more to go off of than just scouting reports, but Carrasco has pitched a grand total of 12 major league games in two years, none of which had any type of high pressure stakes involved.

The fifth spot is up in the air.  The likely candidates appear to be either Josh Tomlin or Jeanmar Gomez.  Both are young and looking for a legit opportunity to be on the big league staff.  Gomez showed last year that he can be effective at the big league level.  In his first few starts Gomez was outstanding.  However, once a legit scouting report was available teams adjusted and Gomez struggled.  His success will depend on how well he can counter act the adjustments teams make against him with his own adjustments.  Unfortunately that will take time to develop.  Of course the Indians have plenty of time.  They won’t be competing for a playoff spot this year.

Tomlin also got 12 starts last year and had some success.  He posted a 6-4 record but his era was 4.50.  With a little bit more seasoning that should go down.  He’s only 26 after all.  The real question is whether or not he has the stuff to be a big league pitcher.  Once teams begin figuring him out it’ll be up to him to make the necessary adjustments.  He’s a lot like Gomez in that regard.  So really, is there much of a difference between Gomez and Tomlin?  Not much.  Either way the Indians are probably screwed.

So there you have it, folks… the Indians rotation, not great, but also not a poop sandwich.  It should be enough to get them to around .500 but anything more than that would be a miracle.  They don’t have a single pitcher you’d want to hand the ball to in a game seven situation.  That’s not good.  Carmona once was that pitcher.  Maybe he can regain that form.  Carrasco supposedly has the potential to be that pitcher.  Let’s just hope the Indians don’t find a way to ruin him.

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